Brands building communities and investing in creators are miles ahead of competitors
Listen to this article:
Even though consumers spend an average of seven hours a day online, it’s more challenging than ever for marketers to get digital mileage out of their efforts.
Consumers are being inundated with an average of 10K ads a day across all platforms and they’re not happy about it. In fact, 91% of people believe ads are more intrusive now compared to two or three years ago, and 79% believe they’re being tracked by retargeted ads.
As such, it’s common practice for online buyers to ignore ads, install blockers, hide sponsored posts, decline cookies, unsubscribe from lists, and participate in other actions that reduce irrelevant exposure to brands.
Big business is playing ball with traditional digital marketing, too, with social media platforms constantly changing its algorithms, Apple's tracking changes, and Google eliminating cookies by 2023.
But the challenges for marketers in 2022 don't end here.
Marketing Dive explained the current state of digital marketing best when it said, “bumpy transitions will rock the industry in 2022.”
And, Tom Libelt, founder of Smart Brand Marketing, brilliantly summed up marketing challenges for 2022. “Ads are getting more expensive across all platforms, organic reach is tiny on social media (e.g., Twitter with 3.8%), authority is tougher to build with all the noise, and tracking is challenging with the new privacy laws,” said Libelt.
While the state of the world, commerce, and marketing is in flux, this remains the same: Successful marketing and advertising is still about finding and connecting with the right audience in meaningful ways.
Here’s how consumers in 2022 are different, reasons why marketing is changing, and a look at brands that are engaging audiences in unique ways in the face of a changing consumer landscape and the cookie apocalypse.
What today’s consumers want from brands (hint: connection)
Even if cookies weren’t disappearing, it would still be challenging to meet today’s consumer demands by tracking third-party data and retargeting.
“If your idea of digital marketing is based on cookies, remarketing tags, pixels, and tracking scripts, your days are numbered,” said Gee Ranasinha, CEO at KEXINO.
A Cisco study sheds further light. 84% of respondents said they care about privacy, their own data, others’ data, and that they want more control of how their data is used. And 79% of respondents in a Pew Research Center report said they are concerned about how companies are using their data.
But, here’s what’s key: Caring about privacy and rejecting third-party tracking doesn’t mean consumers don’t want to connect with brands online.
Stats show the opposite:
- Shoppers go gaga for ecommerce. 22% of global retail sales will be from ecommerce in 2023, which is 8% higher than it was in 2019.
- Consumers jump online regularly to find products. “Consumers are searching for products online more now than ever before,” said Marcos Arteaga, growth & performance marketing consultant. To add context, 32% of U.S. consumers use social media (which only represents one commerce channel) for product discovery, according to the 2021 Shopper Experience Index from Bazaarvoice.
- Social commerce is skyrocketing. People don’t go on social media to connect exclusively with friends and family anymore. They go there to shop—for your products. Social commerce is also not slowing down as it’s expected to reach $79.64 billion by 2025.
- Consumers will happily share their data with brands in the right context. The majority of consumers said they would share their data with companies if it improved their experience, according to Statista.
- Consumers want personalization from brands. Consumers are willing to share data with brands if brands use it for personalization, according to a Formation report.
That’s a lot to digest, but when you review these stats comprehensively, it shows: Consumers not only want to hear from brands online—they seek them out. But, successful marketing boils down to connection, not repeat exposure.
People reward brands that provide meaningful content and connection with their loyalty. For example, we’ve seen today’s consumers:
- Openly support brands that share similar values, and reject brands with questionable ethics.
- 57% of consumers self-report that they will increase spending with a brand when they feel connected.
- Show extensive interest in and support for beloved online creators and branded partnerships.
The bottom line: Consumers want to connect with brands online and buy their products. But, to be successful, brands must invest in initiatives that shift away from third-party tracking and provide meaningful engagement.
There are several ways brands can market effectively, but let’s first hone in on how creators help bring brands and consumers together.
The advantage of leveraging creator content in the new normal
Creator content meets customer needs and demands in a way no other marketing method does.
Christoph Kastenholz said this in Forbes: “Consumers simply don’t want to see advertising. Consumers are, first and foremost, people — and people are primarily interested in content.”
Gee Ranasinha adds to this idea when he said, “2022 and beyond will see the growth in more creative, human-centric marketing as a way to charm, captivate, enthrall, and engage.”
This is why creators hold so much power in today’s economic landscape, and one reason why the Creator Economy is worth more than $104 billion.
Creators specialize in producing authentic, entertaining, and interesting content that resonates with incredibly niche, attentive, and responsive audiences (a dream come true for marketers).
What’s more, reports show these niche audiences are extremely loyal to their favorite creators—even over their favorite brands.
For example, Tubular Labs looked at active social media audiences and loyalty trends. Its researchers found top creators with excellent content and a wide reach saw multiple return visits from the same fans.
Tubular Labs also tracked retention rates for the top 1 thousand YouTube influencers vs. the top 1 thousand media channels. The results? The YouTube audiences much preferred creator content over branded content.
It makes sense why consumers identify with and favor creator content. We relate to creators. They look like us and their lives mirror ours, which creates identifiable connections, and, ultimately, builds trust.
Shayla Price, founder of PrimoStats explained this idea in more detail. She said, “Consumers want content to reflect their lifestyles. It's one of the few ways consumers can trust what they are buying.” And, Lara Miller, founder of Lara Miller PR, said, “The use of nano influencers is on the rise for connecting brands with consumers, because people trust them.”
Above all, consumers are loyal to creators because their content is everything retargeted ads are not—relatable, entertaining, and authentic.
“Consumers crave authentic content. They feel understood rather than sold to, and they are generally less skeptical. This emotional connection builds rapport and loyalty between the brand and the consumer. Gone are days of the cold, hard sell – in 2022, consumers want authenticity and purpose,” says Nicholas Robb, founder at Design Hero Limited.
This is clear—consumers are giving their attention to content creators, and it’s generating results for brands:
- 60% of marketers say influencer-generated content performs better and drives more engagement compared to branded posts.
- 90% of respondents to an Influencer Marketing Hub report say influencer marketing is effective.
- Nearly 40% of Twitter users say they’ve made a purchase as a result of a Tweet from an influencer.
- 86% of women turn to social media for advice and recommendations on what to purchase.
Partnering with creators works. But, there’s a caveat in the current model.
Creators and brands don’t own social audiences
Creators and brands may build large social media followings, but they don’t own their TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook audiences.
It's a rented space.
Creators and brands alike have felt the effects of this reality in the following ways.
1. If the social platform goes down, so does your business
Nicholas Robb explained, “Last year, we saw Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp disappear before us. For six hours, brands and influencers around the world could not connect with their audience, and for many, that meant losing out on business that day. Many realized that if their social media platform of choice disappeared completely, so would their business.”
For example, the creator @tooturntony, who has over 5 million followers on TikTok, recently had 200 videos deleted from his account.
2. Creators and brands are at the mercy of the algorithms
Not only do brands and audiences not own their audiences, they don’t own their content or the distribution of their content.
Claire Jerret, founder and CEO of ClaireJarret.com, said, “The biggest disadvantage for influencers is the lack of control over their own content. If your account is suspended, you’re done. Most of the biggest platforms are constantly changing their algorithms. These algorithms determine what posts we see, which means that unless you are already incredibly popular, you'll have little to no control over your content reaching your audience.”
Katie Zukhovich explains what this feels like in a Tweet:
3. Social platforms make the rules
Finally, the big platforms also have censorship control. The New Yorker included insights from Anshuman Iddamsetty (they/them) about this idea. The New Yorker Stated:
“There’s a gap between the platforms’ message that anyone can ‘build an independent creative career,’ as Patreon’s website touts, and the reality of being a solo entrepreneur. ‘Patreon doesn’t suddenly, magically make the act of creating your deliverables easier,’ they said. Ambiguous guidelines can give platforms the power to block users or types of content at will.”
While growing a social media following has its advantages, it doesn’t offer security. Thankfully, there are alternatives.
There is a winning alternative—and some creators and brands are already ahead
There’s a shift taking place in the Creator Economy, born out of necessity. Many platforms, brands, and creators are now building their own outlets and communities, and investing directly into creators (what Ben Smith calls “monetizing the individual” in the Times).
In the article, Smith refers to Substack and Cameo. He says these platforms cut out the middleman and connect creators and fans to each other directly, allowing fans to remain engaged and creators to make more from their niche followings.
While Ben Smith is talking about media specifically, the same opportunity exists for brands. Brands can—and should—create their own platforms, build their own communities that live on their platforms, and invest directly into creators (i.e., monetize the individual).
Brands that do this:
- Eliminate dependence on third-party data to get eyeballs.
- Secure their own audiences.
- Leverage the popularity of creators on their own platform.
- Provide a more stable space for creators to shine and make real money.
Aman Ghataura, the head of growth for NUOPTIMA, said, "I respect brands that build community among their customers, which creates more authentic interactions and genuine value-added as the brand becomes a fully developed ecosystem.”
Let’s take a closer look at some brands that are setting up fun community hubs where creators can produce content without limitations.
If you want to learn about indoor cycling, you don’t go to TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram—you go directly to Peloton.
That’s because Peloton has built an enthusiastic exercise community of more than 3 million members, and it's only growing.
Part of what makes the Peloton community so compelling is the fascination with its diverse and entertaining celebrity trainers you can interact with right on the Peloton bike or app.
When a community member exercises, fans get what feels like an exclusive 20-60 minutes with the likes of Robin Arzón, Cody Rigsby, Alex Toussaint, or Jess King, to name a few.
While leveraging fame helps Peloton grow, it also opens the door for these creators and fans to build their own platforms, communities, merchandise, and even brands.
This approach helps Peloton and its creators stand firmly on their own feet, all while maintaining an engaged audience.
2. Bon Appétit
Bon Appétit is another brand that has built its own powerful stand-alone platform. By leveraging the popularity of its chefs, sharing fun videos on its site, building a podcast, and engaging with fans directly, Conde Nast’s food magazine has built a loyal fandom.
While Bon Appétit also has a robust social following, it's not dependent on social media for its survival—not in the slightest.
This is evidenced by how fans respond to Bon Appétit’s creator-led content. Bon Appétit’s fans not only watch its creator content religiously, but its devoted fans have started their own Bon Appétit product lines, written fan fiction, and even created a Claire Saffitz action figure, according to Jerry Lu.
Bon Appétit has worked hard to stay safe in the face of the cookie apocalypse and any changes the social powerhouses may make because it has built its own community where fans and chefs shine.
Roblox may be one of the best examples of successfully building a community and monetizing individual creators.
The platform isn’t only a gaming site. It’s a place where talented young developers can explore other creators’ worlds, program their own worlds, and build their own communities within those worlds—and profit from their fandoms.
Roblox doesn’t need third-party cookies or social media for advertising. Instead, it created a compelling platform for a targeted audience where they come to engage, follow, create, and play.
Building and co-creating are the future
Today’s political, economic, and retail climate is a rollercoaster, making tracking and connecting with consumers a game of cat and mouse.
Brands that will win out in the future will be the ones that build their own platforms, grow their communities, and provide a space for talented creators to do what they do best—create.